‘Significant progress’ in Afghanistan? Can’t happen, says one soldier

“Although the gains are fragile and reversible, momentum has shifted to the Afghan Government, and they are on track to begin the transition process…this summer” – CIA Director Leon Panetta, in his written responses to questions from the Senate Armed Services Committee, prior to his confirmation hearings for Secretary of Defense

That sounds like good news, like things are going right for there to be a gradual withdrawal between July of this year and 2014. But in his answers to questions before the SASC, Thursday, Panetta insisted, “This has to be a conditions based withdrawal.” He was responding to an inquiry from Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), who said, in his question, “a withdrawal at this point makes no sense.”

There are many, though, who feel that a withdrawal from Afghanistan should be immediate and unconditional:

“These yarns of ‘significant progress’ are being covered up by the blood and limbs of hundreds – HUNDREDS – of American uniformed service members each and every month, and you know that the rest of this summer is going to see the peak of that bloodshed.” – email from an “active duty colonel who travels all over Afghanistan,” obtained by Pentagon whistleblower Chuck Spinney, and published in Time Magazine

The frustration that the colonel voices in his letter harkens back to other doomsday scenarios drawn during other foreign conflicts in the last 60 years. Referring to op-eds that say if we withdraw, “it would directly increase the threat to the American homeland,” he reminds his audience of past vague, international threats.”Apparently they forgot,” he says,”‘there’s a commie behind every bush,’ ‘the Russians are coming!’ and ‘if Vietnam falls, all of Asia falls to the Communists!’  That logic was absurd in the 1960/70s, and its even more laughable today – or it would be laughable if it didn’t cost so damn many American lives to prop up the fantasy.”

Sniper over-watch during a foot patrol near Forward Operating Base Mizan, Afghanistan, Feb. 23, 2009. (US Army Photo by Christopher S. Barnhart/Released)

What’s the “fantasy” with Afghanistan? You remember it: we fight them there so we won’t have to fight them here.

Indeed, Panetta seems to buy into that, telling Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC), if we lose in Afghanistan, “We not only create a safe haven for Al-Qaeda and their militant allies, I think the world becomes a much more dangerous place.”

The problem is, this “fantasy” props up the Military Industrial Congressional Complex, and Chambliss’ reluctance for there to be any withdrawal from Afghanistan, and his push for even more troops, has as much to do with the military contractors who are in his state and contributed to his campaign, as it does his flag waving patriotism (if not more).

Still, with the goal in Afghanistan being “to provide sufficient stability so that country never again becomes a haven for Al Qaeda,” as he told Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA), during Thursday’s hearing, one has to wonder if that’s even possible.

“To me, that seems to be a never ending mission,” Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) told Panetta. “I don’t see how we get to a stable state.”

After citing Afghanistan’s overwhelming reliance on the international community for security and financial assistance, she asked this of the nominee for Secretary of Defense: “I don’t see how Afghanistan is ever going to be able to even afford its own security forces. And that says to me, that we are going to have to continue to be a major contributor, to paying for those security forces, forever, virtually. So tell me how this ends. I just don’t see how it ends.”

“Whether or not in the end they are going to be able to develop the resources, develop the revenues, develop the governance that needs to be done, those are major questions,” Panetta agreed, “but I think if we stick with it, if we continue to provide help and assistance to them, I think there is going to be a point where Afghanistan can control its own future. We have to operate on that hope.”

We hope they can reach benchmarks. We hope they can govern themselves. We hope we can draw down significantly this summer, be out by 2014. Hope is not empirical, Mr. Panetta. Hope does not save American lives. “It’s sheer madness,”  says the colonel in Afghanistan, “and so far as I can tell, in the mainstream media and reputable publications, it is going almost entirely without challenge.”


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